15 + 2 questions for Lezanne Viviers


15 + 2 questions for Lezanne Viviers

At 31, she is one of South Africa's most prominent fashion designers. LAUREEN ROSSOUW spoke to her shortly after Milan Fashion Week, where she showed her winter range, ‘In our Element(al)’.


1. You have just returned from Milan? How do you do it?

This was our third physical show in Milan, thanks to the invitation and help of our sponsors: Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, Milan Fashion Week and Starbucks Reserve Roastery, and our partnership with the South African Wool and Mohair Council, with whom we share our vision to promote sustainable and natural materials from South Africa.

Our latest collection, “In our Element(al), Carbon to Crystalline", attempts to depict the transition from an old, familiar carbon-based world to a new glittering world of crystals. It is a metaphor for positively changing humanity's consciousness.

2. How did you start?

Two tailors and I started Viviers Studio five years ago in a guest room in my house in Johannesburg. The first fashion shows were held in my garden and several friends and artists acted as models. During these events, artists also exhibited their work. Our circle of friends took care of the music, lighting and photography.

After Covid and the birth of our first child, I moved my workplace to new premises within walking distance of our house. This studio, which can be considered a glass house, consists of a galvanised steel structure completely covered with glass. This gives new meaning to the fact that people in glass houses should be properly dressed.

3. To what do you ascribe your success?

Curiosity and creativity are one and the same for me. Resilience, discipline and a mindset of perseverance, perhaps combined with my aim to unite art and fashion?

4. Where did you grow up? What were you like as a child?

Born in Somerset West, educated in Stellenbosch, and I spent my childhood barefoot between rock pools in the “glitter on the west coast" fishing village of Jacobsbaai and Bellville industria (“get here to see why" CY).

With a tomboy outlook, a green overall and a forklift, I searched for galvanised-gutter sculptures, collecting shiny zinc wires on the site. These contrasts in my childhood definitely contributed to my avant-garde, “affie yard" style, sometimes bright enough to catch a crow's eye, sometimes good enough for the queen. I'm actually a kif clash of kitsch, class and culture.

Image: © EVA LOSADA/INSTAGRAM (@eva.al.desnudo)
Image: © ITM AGENCY/INSTAGRAM (@itm.srl)

5. How do you approach your clothes?

With precision and audacity. We fold and shape our handmade, seasonless, androgynous clothing wraps and forms from shreds of paper, after which we sew them, visual velvet, progressively flattering.

6. What is important to you?

Everything is important. The first meeting, the shape of the garment, the choice of material, the finish to the final product and especially the ultimate satisfaction of the customer are extremely important to me. There is a saying in the fashion world: we sell compliments and clothes that make you feel good.

7. Who do you design for?

I am my own toughest customer. I start with myself, my individuality (duality) and my own frustrations with buying clothes. My requirements are that the garment must be both visually interesting and ethically produced, as well as having meaning. I try to come up with creative solutions. I design for free thinkers, other artists, and for everyone who appreciates quality materials and finishing as much as I do.

Image: © ITM AGENCY/INSTAGRAM (@itm.srl)

8. What qualities are most important for a designer?

Sensibility, judgement, boldness, impulsiveness, determination, boldness and a little cheekiness. A good sense for people and originality. A lot! Curiosity keeps you relevant.

9. Who do you look to for inspiration?

Inwardly, I dig deep into my source and put my hand into my own bosom. Silence helps, crystals strengthen my intuition and Mother Earth helps settle and confirm the gravelly noise inside my head. I like to study and collect art and stones and really like to read new age books about aliens and black holes.

10. If you could give younger fashion designers some advice, what would it be?

Never settle when it comes to quality of materials or craftsmanship. You only have one chance with a new client. You are unique, your frame of reference is specific to your life; trust it. It's enough to be yourself.

11. How would you describe your style?

From concept to art to clothing … colour and texture collide like the “glitter on the west coast" with galvanising effect. Our clothing is often seen as a transition from sharp, traditionally masculine clothing to more organically draped, flowing items which are often associated with conventional femininity.

We strive for balance and harmony between contrasting material choices: organic and natural South African fibres are directly combined with technical and industrial materials (such as refurbished nylon or recycled plastic). Our style is often recognised by undertones of distant Japan, nearby Europe and the dustiness of our homeland's soil on our bare feet.

12. What excites you about working in South Africa?

Our natural beauty, our natural resources, including South African wool and mohair, as well as our indomitable spirit and camaraderie.

“I am because we are”, ubuntu, South Africans' inherent, resilient spirit and innate creative skills, together with our unique aptitude for problem-solving, sometimes astound me.

13. Cape Town or Johannesburg?


Image: © ITM AGENCY/INSTAGRAM (@itm.srl)
Image: © ITM AGENCY/INSTAGRAM (@itm.srl)

14. You have just moved into the Old Mutual building in Cape Town city centre, where you live and work. Why there?

The Old Mutual building is our second home and my satellite showcase for Viviers. It was the closest my husband and I could visualise to having a global city experience in South Africa; similar to someone who would live in New York, yet truly South African.

15. Who has had a major influence on your work?

Marianne Fassler. I worked with her for eight years.

16. Is there anything else you want to do?

Art and interior decoration, as well as having a flower shop and a pawn shop.

17. What do you want to achieve with your business?

I want to expose the world to our authentic luxuries, made at home in Africa.

♦ VWB ♦

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